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What are trans fats or trans fatty acids?

Should vegetarians and vegans be concerned about trans fats?


What are trans fats or trans fatty acids?
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Trans fats, also called trans fatty acids, occur naturally in some foods, such as meat and dairy products. Vegetarians and vegans still need to be concerned about trans fats, however, since our modern food production system produces and adds them to many non-meat based foods, such as margarine and fried and baked foods.

Trans fats are created through the process of hydrogenation of plant-based oils and animal fats when these liquid fats are turned into soft solids such as shortening or margarine.

Though a healthy vegan is likely eating much less trans fat than the average American, a vegan who eats lots of fried and processed foods not prepared at home might be surprised to find out that they may be consuming quite a bit of trans fat!


Why are trans fats so bad?

The laundry list of negative side effects of trans fats and hydrogenated oils is a mile long, and, chances are they may contribute to even more unknown health problems. Heart disease, clogged arteries, and high cholesterol are the main health risks, but some studies suggest diabetes and some types of cancer may be triggered by trans fats as well.


What you can do to avoid trans fats and hydrogenated oils:

  • Avoid fast food and commercial baked goods, as these often contain hidden trans fats.
  • Read food labels. The FDA requires packaged foods to disclose the amount of trans fats in food products. Know how much is too much for you. Look out for the words "shortening", "hydrogenated" and "partially hydrogenated oil", as these indicate hidden trans fats.


Who should avoid trans fats?

Everybody, really. Unlike naturally occuring fats, such as in avocados and olive oils, trans fats are not a necessary nutrient in our diets. If you have high cholesterol or a history of high cholesterol in your family, its best to skip foods containing trans fats completely. Also, if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, be aware that your breast milk will carry trans fat to your child, so you may want to reduce your intake.

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